There’s a reason Martin Scorsese tops so many best filmmaker lists. For more than 40 years he’s been an eclectic (but consistently brilliant) force, veering from the black-and-white brutality of Raging Bull to the blood-red technicolour of The Age of Innocence and the grim urban hellscape of Taxi Driver.
On May 26, ACMI opened SCORSESE, a career-spanning exhibition of costumes, storyboards, behind-the-scenes paraphernalia and a few oddities. Here are four things to look out for before it closes on September 18.
The unmade first feature
Not many 11-year-olds spend their time plotting their first feature film, but Scorsese’s storyboards for his dream sword-and-sandals epic The Eternal City show his early dedication. From the opening credits (he’s specified an unconventional 75-millimetre film gauge and cast Marlon Brando and Richard Burton) to the first fight scene, young Martin shows a connoisseur’s dedication. He wouldn’t return to Roman epic territory until 1988’s Last Temptation of Christ, so consider this a practice run. He was always thinking big.
Scorsese is, above all, a master of the technical art of cinema. Take a look at the fight scenes of Raging Bull, represented at ACMI by storyboards, scripts marked up by Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and shot-by-shot breakdowns that take us through the discombobulating changes of light and fast edits you never noticed before. It gives you an idea of just how much effort and precision goes into every shot. Widening the scope to one of Scorsese’s key collaborators, you can also see De Niro’s script notes for Taxi Driver as well as his actual New York taxi driver’s licence. Yes, he researched that role pretty thoroughly.
Scorsese the fan
It’s possible that Scorsese thinks about nothing but film for most of his waking life. Apart from his own output, he’s made substantial efforts to restore old films and to ensure the legacy of cinema. On display are letters from Scorsese and other filmmakers relating to his lobbying of Kodak to manufacture colourfast film. What’s the point of committing beautiful images to film, he asks, if they’re just going to fade to a murky pink in a few years? He’s also a huge Hitchcock fan, and here, from his private collection, is the very bouquet of flowers that Jimmy Stewart spies Kim Novak purchasing in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
There are seven costumes in the exhibition, including two ball gowns from The Aviator as worn by Cate Blanchett (as Katharine Hepburn) and Gwen Stefani (as Jean Harlow), as well as a few from Scorsese’s only children’s film, Hugo. But the most interesting costume comes from Gangs of New York, which is represented not only by Daniel Day-Lewis’ character’s costume, but his single contact lens. Day-Lewis’ character had a glass eye, for which the actor wore this contact lens for the entire shoot. And here it is, under a magnifying glass so you can see the eagle motif painted on the pupil. It’s possibly the weirdest thing ACMI has ever displayed, and it brings with it the possibility of a small amount of Daniel Day-Lewis’ DNA.
SCORSESE is on at ACMI until September 18.
This article was updated on September 16, 2016.